With the childhood nickname “Bug Girl,” it’s no surprise that Katie Schuler grew up to be a wildlife filmmaker.
“I’ve always had a fascination with the natural world—a real love and admiration for all things wild,” says Schuler, who has a particular interest in lesser-known and lesser-appreciated animals—those that don’t get put into movies or made into stuffed animals.
It’s one of those lesser-observed animals that became the subject of Schuler’s recent film Pangolin
, which traces the poaching and smuggling routes of the endangered pangolin, a small, scaly mammal that resembles an anteater. The film was recently nominated for the Short Award in Great Britain’s Wildscreen Festival and it recently won the 2016 Short Film Award at the American Conservation Film Festival.
"Pangolin required a lot of detective work, and I'm humbled that it's well received and excited to watch how far the little film and its message will travel,” says the Corcoran College alumna who graduated in 2007 with a degree in Fine Art. “Pangolins need all the help they can get and maybe this will bring awareness to one of the largest illegal wildlife trafficking phenomena in the world."
Schuler, who also runs the production company Coral & Oak Studios
with her husband, produced the film during a yearlong fellowship in the Philippines, where she worked closely with local conservationists and wildlife organizations to identify and depict the plight of the endangered
“When I first started my fellowship year, we had a meeting with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development where we went through all the different animals that are threatened on their island, and we started talking about the pangolin,” Schuler says. “I just found it extremely fascinating how many times it changes hands.”
The subject of Schuler's film, the Pangolin, is the world's most trafficked mammal. Photo by Katie Schuler
Schuler’s 13-minute film follows the illegal trafficking of one Pangolin from the time it’s captured in the wild in Southeast Asia to its final destination on dining tables in China, where the animal is considered a delicacy. Along the way, the animals are also stripped of their highly valued scales due to their purported healing properties in traditional Chinese medicine.
Combining a Passion for Art and Wildlife
Her interest in animal conservation stems back to her childhood in West Florida, where Schuler developed an early fascination with tiny insects and frogs that carried into adulthood and eventually into a desire to making art about them, she says. “I wanted to communicate what their lives were like and some of the intricate behaviors that they have in the wild.”
By 2003, Schuler enrolled as a Fine Art major at the Corcoran, where she says she wasn’t limited in what classes and mediums she could explore.
“I could learn sculpture and video and all this cross-media stuff, which is what I’m now doing," she says. "I’m still using all the skill sets that I learned at the Corcoran.”
At the same time she started classes, Schuler also began a work-study position in the entomology department at the Smithsonian where she was able to further research and study insects. But it wasn’t until the end of her college experience, while studying abroad in Australia, when Schuler’s passions for art and wildlife really fused. “That’s sort of when it was cementing in my mind: ‘OK, I want to make wildlife films,’” she says.
Less interested in a traditional study abroad program in Italy, Schuler chose a school in Australia for its emphasis on documentary filmmaking and its close proximity to “some of the most bizarre wildlife,” she says.
Paving one’s own path while in school is advice Schuler would give to current students.
“Don't let trends in the art world steer you away from what your most passionate about," she says. “Keep exploring what makes you feel good, what makes you happy.”
Winners of the Wildscreen Festival's Panda Short Award will be announced Oct. 13. For more information on the festival and Schuler’s film Pangolin, click here.